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Smule Raises $12M Round As It Continues Hiring Spree


According to a recent SEC filing, music app developer Smule has raised $12M in another round of funding after having previously raised $13.5. Best known for its popular mobile apps such as the I am T-Pain autotune app and Ocarina, Smule will aggressively pursue the mobile social music market by continuing to innovate on its existing free-to-play apps. More after the jump.

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REPORT: How Free-to-Play iOS Game Developers Thrive in a Market Forecast to Be 200M by 2012

High Noon iPhone MMO

Many of the most successful iOS games are not sold by big name publishers like Electronic Arts. Rather, they’re from smaller developers and are not even sold at all, but given away in the App Store’s Free section, earning their revenue via in-app payments. Flurry, a mobile app analytics company, recently reported that of the Top 100 grossing iOS games this June, 65% were freemium. This analysis is consistent with data samples taken from AppData.com, Inside Network’s service that tracks app and developer leaderboards. On a recent day, for example, 15 of the top 25 grossing iOS apps were free (and 8 of 10 paid apps were just priced at $0.99.)

What’s more, the total market for freemium iOS games is poised to rapidly grow. It’s currently 75-150 million, and forecast to reach 200 million by 2012. That forecast comes from Jeferson Valadares, GM of games, at Flurry. “The total iOS base now exceeds 300M devices,” he explained to SocialTimes Pro. “We assume that at least a quarter to half of those play freemium games, as games are the most popular category on iOS, and freemium games are the most popular form of gaming. If Apple continues to grow daily activations of iOS devices at 350,000 per day (a conservative estimate based on recently released Apple numbers) over the next two years, then they will add approximately 90 million new devices each year for the next two years. If we assume a quarter of those users will play freemium games, then the market will add over 50 million new freemium gamers over the next two years.”

What kind of games are succeeding in this new ecosystem? SocialTimes Pro talked with two leading developers about the secrets behind their high grossing titles:

Reminiscent of FarmVille with strategy elements, in The Playforge’s Zombie Farm, the player must harvest zombies like they were crops, and then send them to attack neighbors. Since launching 17 months ago, the company reports the game has attracted over 12 million downloads and monthly active users in the millions, The Playforge VP and general manager Thomas Chung told us.

The best strategy for increasing in-app purchases? For The Playforge, said Chung, “[it] has been to seed users with virtual currency and tutorializing them how to spend it.” In fact, he told us, the company gives away six times as much virtual currency as they actually sell.

High Noon is an extremely popular iOS game which mixes first-person shooter and MMO elements with innovative gameplay that uses the iPhone’s internal accelerometer. According to the developer, it currently has about 1 million monthly active users and 250,000 daily active users. It’s performed well in many countries and, in 2010, was the top 10 grossing game of the year in 60+ countries, according to Apple Rewind.

Developed by Beijing-based Happylatte, managing director Bjørn Stabell told SocialTimes Pro that social media is not very important to their monetization rates: “We do leverage Facebook Connect and Apple Game Center to find friends,” as Stabell put it, “but the game is mainly viral through word-of-mouth and in the real world; the funky controls for holstering and reloading makes the very act of playing the game essentially an ad for the game and acts as a good conversation starter.”

Read more about monetizing free-to-play iOS games in the latest SocialTimes Pro report.

New Blog Looks to Increase Interest in Google Music

Google Magnifier Screen

Not too long ago everyone was pretty excited about the debut of Google Music: then we got Music Beta by Google and, while it wasn’t terrible, it also wasn’t much of a pay-off for years of patience. If you’re not paying much attention to the service’s continued evolution it seems you’re not alone. So, to combat flagging interest, Google has launched Magnifier, a music blog/Music Beta hype machine and provider of some complementary tunes.

Magnifier seems, first and foremost, to be an attempt at putting Google Music back into the minds of a somewhat disinterested public — but it’s also looking to make itself a source of general music information by providing artist and music reviews, history and more. It ties in Google+ accounts as well so those who have transferred their loyalty to Google’s social network may be more likely to get on board with its use.

Google recruited Tim Quirk (whose credits include being the former VP of Rhapsody) to help design Magnifier and his innovative thinking shows. The most interesting aspect of the blog is its integration of Music Beta, something that very well could help reignite the service’s popularity. Magnifier lets you read about, say, its “Song of the Day” then click a button that adds it to your library for (free) listening. Users must have an account to take advantage of this, of course, so if Magnifier catches on we could very well see Music Beta increasing its traffic in the near future.

Google Magnifier only recently launched so there isn’t a ton of content to look through but, if you’re interested in seeing what’s up with the blog then take a click to see it for yourself.

Help Fund iPad Craziness with ‘Robots Love Ice Cream

Robots Poster

Ice cream and robots are two great tastes that, not unlike orange juice and mint julips, aren’t expected to go well together. Addo Games’ Burton and Becca Posey are reconfiguring our expections however, working hard on an iPad/iPad2 game that (at last!) combines sentient technology with dairy-based treats.

Robots Love Ice Cream has all the trappings of an indie development. It offers players a bizarre scenario, innovative play mechanics and is the lovechild of a small, devoted team of professionals who are creating out of a sense of passion rather than financial commitment. It’s no surprise then that Addo Games have taken to Kickstarter in an effort to keep their baby pure, hoping that enough interested funders help them in their goal of releasing Robots as a Apple App Store title sometime in 2011. Luckily, it sounds like a project worth contributing to.

The game puts you in the driver’s seat of an ice cream truck and gives you a simple, overarching mission to complete: stop the impending doom of the galaxy by pacifying robot invaders with tasty, frozen treats. Robots Love Ice Cream explains some of its premise in its title — by using “weaponized ice cream” (as pictured below) the mechanized colonists will eventually explode with sheer happiness and, thus, be neutralized.

From the footage embedded in Addo’s Kickstarter video, gameplay features a spin on the tried and true tower defense genre (think Plants vs. Zombies). Instead of remaining stationary, though, Robots utilizes a touch-based mechanic that allows players to spin a given level map on a 360 degree plane to better inform their plan of attack. The game comes complete with a distinctive, cartoony aesthetic and is meant to appeal to a wide audience, providing something for hardcore and casual players alike.

Addo Games needs help to get Robots Love Ice Cream released. Becca and Burton Posey have taken time off from their day jobs to hammer out the game’s development process but they require a few extra pairs of hands to bring their effort home. Funding will go toward hiring further creative help, purchasing development software and paying for the hours of work that go into maintaining the kind of high-production values that the title requires to look and play its best.

There are plenty of sweet (get it? ha ha ha) prizes available for the kind folks who toss a few sheckles toward Addo Games. The lower donation range inclues items such as post cards and wallpapers to free downloads of the finished game and soundtrack while the higher end of the spectrum provides personalized iPad skins, the ability to name one of the robot characters, a free iPad 2 and more.

Want to learn more about Robots Love Ice Cream? Head over to its Kickstarter page, the official Addo Games website or check out the company’s Facebook page and Twitter feed. If you’re already interested, make your donations now — the project will be funded on Sunday, July 31st at 3.00am EST if the $18,000 goal is met on time.